Despite the pandemic, it's been a hectic time for the Cochrane Endurance Project.

The athletics club withdrew from regular practices in March but that did not prevent its members from undertaking personal training in addition to online sessions.

The membership, in fact, practically doubled in size over the last six months as they prepare to return to formal training.

It all kicks off today (Aug. 26) with a hike up Prairie Mountain in the Elbow Valley before resuming twice-a-week practices. The athletes will pursue individual training programs until the end of November, says head coach Travis Cummings. After a transition in December they'll resume training for the rest of the season.

Cummings is impressed with how the club members persevered through the pandemic. They continued their training and kept personal logs. The proof was in the pudding when they held Canada Day 5k time trials.

"We had kids smashing their 5 K best times in Canada Day time trial. They didn't even have any competitive opportunity. It was all on their own."

"Not having competition isn't sustainable long-term. They need to be racing against people. But to have that type of diligence for four or five months and then be able to rock it at the end is awesome. I'm really impressed."

The nature of the sport has helped to make it possible.

"It's been a pretty good thing for us over the last couple of months because of the nature of the sport," says Cummings. "It's pretty low key and easy to distance. As a club, we've done things right. We've been following the guidelines and doing contact tracing and the kids have been conscious of the distancing rules."

Club organizers have also made use of the time to tend to other behind the scenes work, like formalizing their status as a non-profit society, and working on coaching certifications.

While there's been widespread cancellation of races, Cummings is heading up a five race series for Southern Alberta with Athletics Alberta with key sponsorships. All five races will be held in Calgary, and the first is scheduled for Sept. 12. The races have been approved by Alberta Health Services and the City of Calgary.

He has added the precursor the races are subject to cancellation should there be a change in directives from the government.

"We're planning right now to make sure we race, but with these times right now anything could happen."

Registration has just opened and there's been plenty of interest from all calibre of runners, from high school age, to varsity to masters and seniors.

Strict rules are in place for the races, including limiting each race to 50 competitors. As well, there's warmup and cool down guidelines and requirement for participating athletes to stay within their cohort.

A number of Endurance Project athletes will be competing in their respective category in the series.

Athletics Alberta will also be holding age class provincials on Nov. 9. 

Cummings believes the inclusive community philosophy of the Endurance Project is key. 

"We get good results, the kids do well and we get high-performance competition, but still want to the whole idea of it being inclusive and grassroots program that builds athletes the right way. It means that we build them slowly over time. We're not about specialization or anything like that. And we're not trying to make a buck, so there's no pressure on the kids."

"They get what they want out of it and if they put the work into it, we turn them into varsity quality athletes."

"I want it to be something that they take serious, but I also want it to be low stress. The only pressure from the athletes is the pressure they put on themselves to want to perform and get better."

"We have awesome kids, and we're developing a pretty solid culture. We have a really synergistic group right now."